The mystical concept of “the life force” in idealist philosophy, which anti-materialist philosophers once absurdly thought explained the difference between living things and dead matter.
See also: Henri BERGSON, ENTELECHY, VITALISM
“In the nineteenth century, many early biologists were convinced that life had an essence, a vital force. The science of biology was in many times and places dedicated to revealing the secret force that animated gross matter and made it into mayflies and marigolds and meerkats. After a century or so of tireless dissection and analysis, though, biologists concluded that the secret was that there was no secret; the eeriness of this haunting was that there was no ghost to explain it. Twentieth-century biochemistry, and later molecular biology, showed that life was made of the same stuff as non-life, and obeyed the same rules. The processes of life did not need to take place in a tissue or a cell, they could all be replicated in a test tube. As far as the electrons are concerned, respiration is no different to rusting.” —Oliver Morton, Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet, (NY: Harper-Perennial, 2009), p. 156.
A loose school of ancient Greek idealist philosophical thought which was most likely founded by Parmenides of Elea in the 6th century BCE, and included his followers Zeno of Elea (who was also Parmenides’s lover) and the lesser-known Melissus of Samos. However, Xenophanes of Collophon, who may have influenced Parmenides, is called the founder of the Eleatic School by Plato.
The fundamental doctrine of this school was that (despite all appearances) the world consists of one indivisible and unchanging reality. They even thought that movement was “impossible”! Strangely, Hegel said that the origin of dialectics was with the Eleatics, though he really just had Zeno’s famous paradoxes in mind as he said this. In effect Zeno may have been using some early idealist dialectical thinking to (absurdly) argue against the possibility of movement, change or development in the physical world itself.
“The Eleatic school (end of 6th-5th century B.C.) was named after the town of Elea in Southern Italy. In contradistinction to the natural dialectic teachings of the Miletian [or Ionian] school, and of Heraclitus, regarding the changeable nature of things, the Eleatic school believed in their individisible, immovable, unchangeable, homogeneous, continuous, eternal essence. At the same time, some of the propositions of representatives of the Eleatic school, and particularly the proofs advanced by Zeno concerning the contradictoriness of motion (the so-called paradoxes of Zeno), despite their metaphysical conclusions, played a positive role in the development of ancient dialectics, having raised the problem of expressing in logical concept the contadictory character of the processes of motion.” —Note 77, LCW 38:572-3.
ELECTIONS — In a Bourgeois Democracy
Elections in a bourgeois democracy are essentially fraudulent, as far as classes other than the capitalist ruling class are concerned. This is because all the major parties which are promoted by the capitalist system and its overwhelmingly dominant and smothering mass media represent the bourgeoisie; because all the most basic and important matters are never up for discussion and decision in the first place (since the ruling class parties already agree about them); and because the choices about candidates and questions which are being allowed are almost exclusively about very secondary issues on which the ruling class itself is not already in complete agreement.
However, for the different and competing sections within the ruling class these essentially phony elections (from the point of view of the revolutionary proletariat) can be extremely important. The right politicians can favor the interests of one of these sections as compared to another, and enormous potential future profits can be at stake. For this reason billions of dollars are now routinely spent in American elections to promote the differing interests of different sections of the ruling class.
In addition to their important purpose in deciding intra-ruling class disputes, elections in bourgeois societies serve another—and much more important purpose: namely, further indoctrinating the masses and getting them to believe that they have the ultimate say about how society should be run, and that therefore they are themselves responsible for the decisions made by the government. It is possible for the ruling capitalist class to literally get away with mass murder (at home and abroad) when they can convince the people that this was the people’s own decision.
See also: LESSER OF TWO EVILS, MAJORITY [Hinton quote]
“Did you, too, O friend,
suppose democracy was only for
elections, for politics, and for a party name?”
—Walt Whitman, “Democratic Vistas” (1871)
[Real democracy is a matter of allowing the people to control their own lives, and of allowing the majority of the people to govern in their own interests (which the phony manipulated elections in the U.S. do not actually permit). —Ed.]
“There are five or six people in this room tonight that could simply make a decision—this will be the next president—and probably at least get a nomination, if ultimately the person didn’t win. And that’s not the way things are supposed to work.” —President Barack Obama, February 2012, hat-in-hand at a small political fund-raising event attended by billionaires including Bill Gates, the richest man in America. Quoted in Jane Mayer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016), p. 321.
“It is well established that electoral campaigns are designed so as to marginalize issues and focus on personalities, rhetorical style, body language, and the like. And there are good reasons. Party managers read polls and are well aware that on host of major issues, both parties are well to the right of the population—not surprisingly; they are, after all, business parties. Polls show that a large majority of voters object, but those are the only choices offered to them in the business-managed electoral system, in which the most heavily funded candidate almost always wins.” —Noam Chomsky, Optimism Over Despair: On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change (2017), p. 7.
“I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority
of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not
now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the
voting populace goes down.” —Paul Weyrich, a conservative political strategist, 1980.
[It is indeed in the interests of each section of the capitalist ruling class to discourage voting by those who would support the other sections, and to strongly encourage voting by those potential voters who would side with them. The Democrats in the US make great efforts to get unionized workers and minorities to vote, while the Republicans concentrate on white people, rural areas, and the better off neighborhoods and suburbs. The Republicans often take this further and try to outright disenfranchize people who are more likely to vote against them. There is strong reason to believe they succeeded in electing George W. Bush president in 2000 through preventing African-Americans from voting (or from having their votes counted) in Florida and elsewhere.
In the US “two party system” the Republicans generally take a harder line against the working class, minorities and the poor. The Democrats approach to maintaining bourgeois rule is to pretend to be the friends of the people; in other words they are generally more demagogic—though all bourgeois parties are demagogic to a considerable degree. (And Donald Trump, the Republican presidential victor in 2016 is as much of a demagogue as any Democrat.) In other words, the Democrats and the Republicans have something like what is known as a “good cop, bad cop” routine for fooling the people. As such, it is more important for the Republicans to try to actually restrict voting, and much more important for the Democrats to constantly emphasize the importance of “getting out the vote” and to fool the people into thinking that voting is going to make an important difference in their lives. But whichever party wins these elections, the capitalist class stays in firm control. —S.H.]
ELECTIONS — Foreign Imperialist Manipulation Of
See also: EISENHOWER ADMINISTRATION (McCoy quote)
“According to a compilation at Carnegie Mellon University, between 1946
and 2000 the rival superpowers intervened in 117 elections, or 11 percent of all the
competitive national-level contests held worldwide, via campaign cash and media
disinformation. Significantly, the United States was responsible for eighty-one of these
attempts (70 percent of the total)—including eight instances in Italy, five in Japan,
and several in Chile and Nicaragua stiffened by CIA paramilitary action.” —Alfred W.
McCoy, In the Shadows of the American Century (2017), p. 55.
[These were just some of the more specific and more blatant imperialist manipulations of foreign elections. Since World War II, agencies of US imperialism (especially the CIA) have had in addition many general ideological (“propaganda”) operations in constant operation all around the world, a principal purpose of which is the manipulation of foreign elections. It is not just “the 11%” of foreign elections which are manipulated by imperialism to one degree or another, but the great majority of them! And of course those elections held within imperialist countries themselves are even more determinedly “manipulated” by the local capitalist-imperialist ruling class—since they basically control these elections, from the selection of major candidates to almost the entire media coverage of them. It is only when some competing imperialist power deigns to try to manipulate these elections to their own advantage that the local imperialists start to howl so hypocritically. This is what happened in 2016 with the apparently successful efforts of the Russian imperialists to tilt the US presidential election in favor of Trump. —Ed.]
ELECTRICITY — Availability
About 1.1 billion people in the world, roughly one in seven, still do not have access to electricity. This huge number of people without access to something as basic as electricity, even in this modern age, are mostly in Asia and Africa. Even economically-booming China only managed to provide “universal electrification” for the country in 2015. It should also be noted, however, that the term “universal electrification” is often essentially a lie in many countries. “In April  India celebrated the electrification of its last village, yet about 240 million people remain without power and connections are often unreliable.” [Information from the Economist magazine, July 14, 2018, p. 13.]
ELECTRICITY and LIGHTING — Availability per Capita
This map is based on satellite photos of the light produced in various regions of the earth adjusted to show how much light (and by implication how much electricity and economic development in general) is produced per capita in different countries and areas. It is thus one indication of the relative wealth and development in some countries and areas compared to the relative poverty and under-development in other areas, and an indication of the overall gross inequality of wealth and modern amenities in the world today. (Of course some large areas like Greenland show up as “highly developed per capita” only because the population is so extremely sparse there.)
“Satellite photos of Earth’s artificial lights at night form a
luminescent landscape. But researcher Chris Elvidge of NOAA and colleagues from the
University of Colorado and the University of Denver realized that they could also
illuminate something much darker: the magnitude of human poverty. By comparing the
amount of light in a particular area and its known population, they realized that they
could infer the percentage of people who are able to afford electricity and the level
of government spending on infrastructure development. This allowed them to extrapolate
levels of human development—a measure of well-being that includes such factors as
income, life expectancy and literacy.
“Their Night Light Development Index (NLDI) uses a composite of cloudless night images taken by Air Force satellites. They found that the NLDI (see map) measured human development with uncanny accuracy. The results closely correlated with conventional indices and in some cases even surpassed them. ‘The NLDI helps us get at the spatial patterns that you can’t see with traditional economic indices,’ Elvidge says. ‘For instance, most nations report their GDP at the country or province level, but the NLDI can reveal subregional patterns, down to the one-kilometer scale.’ The index also provides information on some countries, mostly in Northern Africa and the Middle East, for which reliable economic data are simply unavailable.” —Joseph Stromberg, Smithsonian magazine, March 2013, pp. 18-19.
One of the four known forces of nature. It acts between particles with electrical charges by means of the exchange of photons.
The body of knowledge in physics which describes phenomena related to electricity and magnetism. On a theoretical level this has now been transformed into the quantum field theory known as quantum electrodynamics (QED).
One of the primary components of atoms and matter in general. Electrons, and their specific structure and arrangement within cloud-shells around the nucleus of atoms, are responsible for the chemical properties of the elements.
See also: WAVE FUNCTION
“There are whole walls in libraries covered by countless shelves which are bending under the books on electronics and quantum electrodynamics. But in none of those books will you find a proper definition of an electron, for the very good reason that we haven’t the foggiest idea what an electron ‘is’.” —Vincent Icke, The Force of Symmetry (1995), p. 300. [Icke seems to think that finding out what an electron “is” is impossible or even meaningless. However, one way we find out more about what things actually are is by finding out how they relate to other things, what their internal composition and structure is, and so forth. These are precisely the ways in which we have already deepened our knowledge of what molecules and atoms are. —S.H.]
“The ‘essence’ of things, or ‘substance’, is also relative; it expresses only the degree of profundity of man’s knowledge of objects; and while yesterday the profundity of this knowledge did not go beyond the atom, and today does not go beyond the electron and ether, dialectical materialism insists on the temporary, relative, approximate character of all these milestones in the knowledge of nature gained by the progressing science of man. The electron is as inexhaustible as the atom, nature is infinite, but it infinitely exists. And it is this sole categorical, this sole unconditional recognition of nature’s existence outside the mind and perception of man that distinguishes dialectical materialism from relativist agnosticism and idealism.” —Lenin, “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism” (1908), LCW 14:262.
“Materialists were [once] not aware of scientific knowledge of material structures, such as electron theory which demolished the erroneous theory of the elimination of matter and which clearly bears out the correctness of the materialism of dialectical materialism. Through the discoveries of modern natural science, such as the discovery of electron theory, certain material properties which appeared in old materialist concepts (weight, hardness, impermeability, inertia, etc.) were shown to exist only in certain material forms and not in others. Facts like these eradicated the one-sideness and narrowness of old materialism’s approach to material concepts and nicely demonstrated the correctness of [dialectical] materialism’s recognition of the world.” —Mao, “Lecture Notes on Dialectical Materialism” (1937), in Nick Knight, ed., Mao Zedong on Dialectical Materialism (1990), p. 102.
“We may ask ... what holds a negatively charged electron together (since
[unlike the nucleus of the atom] it has no nuclear forces [to overpower repulsive electrical
forces]). If an electron is all made of one kind of substance, each part should repel the other
parts. Why, then, doesn’t it fly apart? But does the electron have ‘parts’? Perhaps we should say
that the electron is just a point and that electrical forces only act between different
point charges, so that the electron does not act upon itself. Perhaps. All we can say is
that the question of what holds the electron together has produced many difficulties in the
attempts to form a complete theory of electromagnetism. The question has never been answered.”
—Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winning physicist, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, vol.
2, (Addison-Wesley, 1964), p. 1-2.
[The notion that an electron (or any other physical particle) may “only be a point” is actually ridiculous, as Feynman may be hinting here. It is an attempt to reduce a part of reality to a mathematical abstraction, and hence is a form of philosophical idealism. (See also my essay: “The Impossibility of Infinitely Small Particles” (1989) at: https://www.massline.org/Philosophy/ScottH/infinitely_small.htm ) In any case, the more fundamental point here is Lenin’s: There are still a great many important things we do not at all understand about even just this one basic component of matter, the electron. —S.H.]
One of the 100+ basic types of atoms, including such elements as hydrogen, carbon, sulfur, iron, gold, etc. The chart at the right shows all the elements which have been discovered (as of 2012) in their familiar arrangement in the Periodic Table, along with their chemical symbol (one or two letters) and their atomic number (the number of protons each atom of that element has in its nucleus). The elements in white boxes were known in ancient times; those in green boxes were identified prior to 1870 (and were thus part of Dmitri Mendeleyev’s first Periodic Table); those elements in yellow boxes were discovered between 1870 and 1927; and the elements in blue boxes were discovered after 1927. [Chart from W. T. Bridgman, “The Cosmos in Your Pocket: How Cosmological Science Became Earth Technology - I”, Jan. 6, 2012, p. 9.]
1. A particle in physics which is definitely not made up of other, smaller particles and/or which therefore definitely has no internal structure. It is not known if any such elementary or “fundamental” particles in this sense actually exist.
Atoms were once defined as particles which were fundamental (in the sense that they could not be cut into pieces). But much later it was learned that atoms are composed of protons, neutrons and electrons, which were then all assumed to be elementary particles. More recently it was found that protons and neutrons, at least, are themselves composite particles, each constructed of three quarks. The further advance of physics, especially when using more and more powerful cyclotrons and other pieces of advanced equipment, has repeatedly shown that what were once considered to be elementary particles are actually composites. This has led many people to wonder if truly elementary or fundamental particles exist at all! (Hence the way the term “elementary particle” is now defined in physics in the second sense below.)
Dialectics would seem to strongly suggest that no truly elementary particles can exist, and that there are internal opposing forces within everything. However, it is also well to remember Engels’s comment that the laws of dialectics are merely important generalizations derived from our overall investigation of the world. These dialectical laws, including the fundamental law of contradiction, do appropriately guide our thinking, but they do not absolutely dictate the way nature always has to be.
2. [As it is now more cautiously used in particle physics:] A particle whose substructure is unknown, and thus one which is so far not known to be composed of other particles. At the present time the “elementary” particles in this sense include the fundamental fermions or “matter and anti-matter particles” (quarks, leptons, antiquarks, and antileptons), and the fundamental bosons or “force particles” (gauge bosons including the photon and gluon, and the Higgs boson). A particle containing two or more elementary particles is a composite particle.
See also: STANDARD MODEL, “THEORY OF EVERYTHING”
ELIMINATIVE MATERIALISM or ELIMINATIVISM
A variety of naïve materialism which claims that, no matter what people suppose, all mental states and properties are actually nonexistent, and that all talk of mental states and the mind should be eliminated entirely.
See also: IDENTITY THEORY, INSTRUMENTALISM [1st sense]
The “elite theory”, or “elites theory”, is the bourgeois sociological doctrine that the state, particular governments, and the political world in general, should be analyzed in terms of elites, or the powerful people who run the world versus those who they govern. This theory was consciously developed, and is most often consciously still promoted, in opposition to the Marxist analysis of society in terms of socioeconomic classes, and the actual dominance and rule in class society of one or another of these social classes over all the others. Bourgeois sociologists have not been able to deny that some people in society are in a powerful privileged position which allows them to rule the others. So they are all the more concerned to at least hide the fact that this ruling group of people is the capitalist class and their chosen representatives. Thus these bourgeois ideologists are willing to talk about “ruling elites”, but virtually never the ruling capitalist class.
The theory of “elites” was developed at around the beginning of the 20th century in Italy by Gaetano Mosca and Vilfredo Pareto. Mosca wrote a book called The Ruling Class in 1896 (English translation 1939) in which he championed this theory. He was careful to define what he meant by “class” in elite power and organizational terms, as opposed to economic terms of the relationship of differing groups of people to the means of production. He did talk about the rulers and the ruled, and recognized that the ruling class was a rather stable privileged group which had both wealth and power, which he attributed primarily to their much better organization. Mosca viewed liberal democracy as basically a sham, which it in fact is. Mosca is therefore both the founding figure and a transitional figure in the development of the theory of “elites” away from Marxism.
Although Mosca developed this basic “elites” theory of how a privileged powerful few rule the many, it was the bourgeois economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto who apparently first used the precise term “elites” in a huge 1916 book on sociology (translated into English in 1935). Pareto switched the explanation for how elites are able to rule from their superior organization to various psychological factors. After World War II, liberal bourgeois sociology and “political science” around the world quickly adopted the concept of “elites” as the basis of their thinking about society. Strangely, they nearly always fail to draw Mosca’s own conclusion that this clearly shows that liberal bourgeois democracy is a fraud! One prominent bourgeois sociologist in the US who promoted the adoption of the theory of “elites” was C. Wright Mills, with his book The Power Elite (1956).
While bourgeois ideologists cannot deny that powerful groups of people run society in their own interests, this admission actually serves the interests of the ruling capitalists in one important way. They argue that this rule by “elites” is inevitable in every society, and that no social revolution will ever be able to institute genuine rule by the people. The message to the working class is, “So why even try?!”
We Marxists should not only cringe when we hear the word “elites” but also clearly recognize that the speaker is looking at society from a bourgeois perspective which rejects any Marxist class analysis. People who talk in terms of “elites” are distorting social reality, and—consciously or not—hiding the actual dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
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